Leaders: Bigger picture of failure | Aid workers

Former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill let slip that independence is never far from the SNP mind when it comes to policy making. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill let slip that independence is never far from the SNP mind when it comes to policy making. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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MISSED target for cancer screening a warning that SNP must change its priorities

THAT the number of Scots waiting more than six weeks for vital medical tests to detect conditions such as cancer has more than doubled in the past year represents a serious failure.

It has been effective in creating populist policies but it is less apt to take on challenges

The Scottish Government set this standard waiting time back in 2009. Yet, despite having six years to achieve the target, things are getting worse for patients.

Labour points out that the Scottish Government has tightened NHS budgets harder than the UK government, a fact that sits uncomfortably with the SNP narrative of protecting voters from the worst of Westminster.

But it is not just the Government’s failure to adhere to the standards it set itself that should give cause for concern. We may, legitimately, worry about whether, in the current political climate, the Scottish Government is even willing to fully address this problem.

The SNP’s general election campaign did not include a pitch for a second independence referendum. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was adamant that she did not consider the vote on 7 May to have anything to do with the constitution. Instead, it was about progressive politics in the interests not just of Scots but of voters across these islands.

But just a few days ago, former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill let slip that independence is never far from the SNP mind when it comes to policy making. He wrote that the decision to deny voting rights to prisoners had been taken to avoid “any needless distractions in the run-up to the referendum”. To have enfranchised those behind bars might have led to “lurid headlines that could tarnish the bigger picture”. The decision on votes for prisoners was “the wrong thing done, albeit for the right reasons”.

MacAskill’s words were disheartening, but also illuminating. Full fiscal autonomy, boldly demanded during the general election campaign, is no longer a pressing desire for the SNP. But then the figures showed that a change to the existing model would have made necessary extensive budget cuts. Might it have been judged by the SNP that this would also “tarnish the bigger picture”?

The bigger picture on health is that the NHS has undergone no serious reform for almost a decade. When the SNP first took power in 2007, the party adopted a managerial approach, broadly happy to continue with the service as it had been left to them by the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. To properly address the failings in the Scottish NHS that mean targets for treatment are being missed would require the SNP to accept that all is not as it should be.

The Scottish Government has been effective in creating populist policies but it is less apt to take on challenges. Reform of the NHS – or the Scottish education system, which is in need of new ideas and a bolder vision – would require the SNP to move out of campaign mode. It would require the First Minister to concede that problems exist and for her to begin addressing them.

The challenge for the SNP, then, is to match with action its rhetoric about putting the interests of all before the constitution.

It should not be enough for the Scottish Government to blame all ills on Westminster while taking sole credit for successes. Opposition parties at Holyrood have recently, wisely, turned their attention to the state of the education system. The First Minister appears to have taken notice, admitting the current system and its results are not good enough, and pledging that a significant improvement is a priority. Now failings in the NHS must also be given her immediate attention.

The SNP set targets for patients and failed to meet them. Whether it harms “the bigger picture” or not, the Scottish Government must recognise this and set about the potentially messy but essential job of putting things right.

Aid workers are heroes too

SREBRENICA 20th anniversary will honour bravery of Scots who risk their lives to help others.

Quite rightly, we celebrate the bravery and commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces who risk – and sometimes lose – their lives in the defence of our nation and others.

That we remember them, pay tribute, and give thanks is important, to them and to society. We must never lose sight of the gravity of what we often expect them to do on our behalf.

But it is not only members of the armed forces who risk so much for others. Aid workers – ­volunteers driven by the selfless, courageous desire to help others – are every bit at heroic at the troops who engage in combat. Those who put the safety of others before their own for no reward are the very best of us. And so plans to mark, in Scotland, the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, when more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by members of the Bosnian Serb Army, are very much to be welcomed.

A great many Scots were involved in aid work in warn-torn Bosnia. Two years before the genocidal killings in Srebrenica, Christine Witcutt of Edinburgh was killed as she travelled to deliver aid. Others who made it home alive included Sergeant David Hamilton, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, who drove relief lorries to Sarajevo during the siege of the city.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be among those inside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh on 10 July to commemorate the anniversary of the worst atrocity on European soil. The charity Remembering Srebrenica is to be commended for organising this important service in recognition of those who died and those who risked so much for the survivors.

We do not subscribe to the view that Scots are unusually compassionate; people, wherever they are from, have the most humbling capacity to do good in the face of evil. But we are proud of those countrymen and women who made a difference during the Bosnian conflict.

And we’re equally grateful for the work of others – medical staff risking their safety to help those at risk of Ebola in Sierra Leone, for example – who continue to show such selflessness.

Those in St Giles’ will mark the anniversary of a slaughter that shames humanity. But the men and women to whom they will pay tribute for their heroism give us cause for continued hope.